I have to throw my hat in the ring of blog posts that are sure to pop up in the next few hours.
Habs fans will find themselves in one of these groups:
- Content with the season, happy to have gone further than anyone thought they would,
- Unhappy that some guys didn’t show up when it mattered, and the coach tied one hand behind his team’s back,
- As the title says, grateful for the run, but knowing that this could have went further.
There were some painful moments in these playoffs, and some players who seemed to loaf their way through the post-season really didn’t help their team. At all. The coaching staff was taking one step forward and one step backward. But if I told you in early April that the Canadiens would have made it to the Conference finals, I guarantee you’d either call me crazy, or take it and run to the bank.
When you knock out the defending champs, the league’s top team, and the league’s 2 golden boys in the process, you’ve got a lot to be happy about. Then again, once you get that far, the rest “looks” a lot easier, doesn’t it? Enter Michael Leighton. Say what?!? In reality, the Canadiens had no answer for the Flyers dynamic offense and tougher defense. They managed to crack the shell in game 3, but the Flyers quickly adjusted and regrouped. They deserve credit for executing their game plan, and getting back to it when they faltered.
Some Habs fans viewed any game after avoiding the sweep vs the Capitals as gravy. That’s fine, and more power to you, but I’m not one of those people. After 17 years of not getting this far, or anywhere even close, I desperately wanted the Canadiens to write at least one more happy chapter for this season. You don’t get any awards for getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, you only get a worse draft pick. You get some irreplaceable memories and unforgettable moments, but that’s about it. That’s what Leafs fans hang their hats on.
All this being said, I’m hugely proud of this team, and some of the players in particular; Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, P.K. Subban, Dominic Moore and Jaroslav Halak. These guys played with guts and determination worthy of recognition by legions of Habs fans for decades to come. I’d gladly have any of their names on the back of the Habs jersey that I don’t own (yet)! Some guys have hopefully played their last game in a Habs jersey. I won’t get in to names…it’s just not the time.
Right now we should be thankful for this roller coaster season. A team that few believed in made things much more interesting and fun than they probably should have. Bob Gainey put this group together, and admittedly didn’t know how it would turn out. You’re a genius when it works, and a bum when it doesn’t. Bob certainly went out on a high, but he should thank a guy that was drafted in the 9th round that he nearly traded in February for getting him there, and beyond. Jaroslav Halak is the team’s MVP, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Some of his feats will go down in Canadiens lore as among some of the best performances in the team’s history. It didn’t culminate in anything tangible, which means they may be quickly forgotten, but they shouldn’t be. While Gainey’s “science experiment” is not perfect, and while replacement GM Pierre Gauthier certainly has his plate full with salary cap issues, he finally managed to bring in heart, grit, skill, pride and leadership to the Canadiens organization, something that had sorely been lacking for years. Well, I’m relieved that it’s back now, and it appears that it’s here to stay. While the size component is still missing, that will be among Gauthier’s priorities to address. How he will do that is also a post for another day.
The future is far from clear, and the path to the cup no easier than it was a year ago, however I feel a heck of a lot more comfortable getting on a roller coaster with this group than any group that we’ve seen over the past 15 years. So many guys played the role of hero. So many of them figured out what it takes to compete in the playoffs. It’s unfortunate that it’s over, but hey, it’s Montreal. It’s the summer. We can now peel ourselves off the couch and reintroduce ourselves to sunshine. Life goes on, and October will roll around sooner than later.
Some early things to look forward to:
- The “centennial” celebrations will mercifully, finally, come to an end. Love the past, but it’s time to look ahead.
- Expectations should now be higher – no more praying for 8th place.
- Guy Boucher – if not the man himself, then certainly the fervour to get him here.
- Someone VERY deserving will wear the ‘C’ next year, and several other deserving guys will wear the ‘A’.
- The Leafs still suck.